Cats shut out in the Shoe

Tania Ganguli

The Northwestern offense didn’t put itself in a position to score many times during Saturday’s 20-0 loss to Ohio State, but the one time the Cats made it into the redzone they pushed themselves right back out.

During the first drive of the second quarter, NU drove from its own 22 to the Ohio State eight yard line.

Qarterback Brett Basanez rushed for eight yards into the endzone, but the play was called back. Offensive lineman Zach Strief was called for holding Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, who Strief said was “in Baz’s face,” leaving NU with second and 18 from the 23.

“A lot of people say if you don’t have a hold it’s a touchdown,” Strief said. “Well if I don’t have a hold on him, he makes a tackle five yards in the backfield. So pick your poison.”

That penalty ended the only long Cats drive and swung the momentum right back to Ohio State. On the next play Basanez was sacked for a loss of five yards. The Cats were looking at third and goal, but it was from the Buckeyes’ 28.

It was the only time NU (2-3, 0-1 Big Ten) got within 10 yards of scoring a touchdown.

The Cats’ defense, on the other hand, controlled Ohio State’s (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) rushing enough to keep their team competetive in front of 104,680 fans in Columbus, Ohio. But the defense’s efforts proved futile as the offense never made it into the endzone.

“Notice I’m saying, ‘We, we, we.’ We did all this,” Basanez said. “Good teams don’t beat themselves and Ohio State proved that.”

The difference was clear from the beginning to the end of each drive.

NU started most of its drives at or near the 20 after touchbacks or short returns, while Ohio State generally started near the 40. The Cats’ unfavorable field position was usually followed by errors and penalties which set them back too far to recover.

In the first quarter, Ashton Aikens halted a promising drive with a fumble after rushing four yards to the NU 46 for what would have been a first down. Aikens also negated a five-yard Basanez rush with an illegal block. The 15-yard penalty, plus a sack right after it for a six-yard loss, left the Cats with a second down and 31 yards to go.

“It was just us killing ourselves,” Strief said. “And we did it over and over.”

Late in the second quarter, Ohio State backup quarterback Scott McMullen’s pass bounced off the intended receiver and into the hands of NU safety Bryan Heinz, who took the ball four yards the other way. But the Cats squandered that opportunity, gaining only one yard before having to punt the ball away.

Punt returning was also a problem for the Cats. Kunle Patrick dropped a punt in the second quarter at the 17. The receiver batted the ball around and then leapt on it so the Cats could keep possesion, but not before losing six yards. A false start sent the play back five more yards, forcing NU to start at their own six.

On another kick return, NU running back Jason Wright caught then dropped the ball in the endzone, then stepped out but hurried back and got control of the ball before being tackled in the endzone. Fortunately for the Cats, the play was ruled a touchback because the ball never left the endzone.

While the Cats were facing a long field for most of the game, Ohio State started most of their drives close to NU territory. Because their running game was slowed by the Cats’ rush defense, the Buckeyes relied heavily on their passing game despite the fact that starting quarterback Craig Krenzel sat out the game because of an elbow injury. McMullen, the backup, completed 16-of-25 passes for 166 yards and a score.

The NU passing game was plagued by miscues and several near-lateral passes. Basanez completed 10 passes for just 64 yards. Four of his completions came during the opening drive of the second quarter, but his next six passes after that drive fell incomplete, and one was nearly intercepted.

“At third and long it’s on the receiver, but (Ohio State defenders) were always there,” Wright said.

NU coach Randy Walker replaced Basanez with backup quarterback Alexander Webb to start off a few drives in the second half, in search of something that would throw off the Ohio State defense.

NU was more successful when it stayed on the ground, but literally ran into trouble against the Ohio State defense.

“We ran fairly well, but that’s a tough defense to make a living running the ball against,” Walker said.

And when they got the ball close enough, Walker showed his renewed confidence in kicker Slade Larcheid by attempting two field goals. The snaps that came from tight end Sean Mansfield were low and shaky.

“The holder did the best he could to get it down,” Larscheid said. “I felt like this would be a perfect place for the first field goal, but that’s just the way she goes.”

Larscheid missed from 35 and 47 yards out.